Harry Morgan, the beloved actor best known for his role as Colonel Sherman T. Potter in the television series M*A*S*H died Wednesday morning December 7th. Irrelevant but no less ironic is the notion that the man best known for portraying a leader of a mobile army surgical hospital during wartime passed away on the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Although Mr. Morgan lived a long life of ninety-six years news of his demise still hit me like a punch in the stomach. I wasn’t around for his early film roles and was much too young during his Dragnet days but M*A*S*H was always a staple in my home when I was growing up.
There wasn’t a week that would go by, most often on Monday nights, where my father would gather the family together around our state of the art 19″ television to watch the latest antics of the four-oh-double-seven. Most kids of the day would have much preferred to watch Little House On The Prairie but not us. We were regular army.
Sherman T. Potter reported for duty shortly after the demise of Lt Colonel Henry Blake and quickly became one of my favorite characters. I cried my eyes out the first time I saw the episode where Colonel Blake died in a plane crash on what was supposed to be his discharge from the army and journey stateside. It was that same punch-in-the-stomach feeling and I remember thinking even at that young age how hard it would be to replace a character like that. But a few episodes later along came Colonel Potter and the rest is television history.
The thing I liked most about Colonel Potter was that he didn’t take any crap. Countless times Corporal Klinger (the transvestite who wanted to get a section eight discharge) would come up with a new scheme to get out of the army and every time he was turned away by Sherm. My particular favorite being the time Klinger attempted to eat a Jeep and wound up in the infirmary. When told that Klinger was in the process of eating a Jeep the Colonel calmly responded “This too shall pass.”
M*A*S*H is one of those shows that never gets old. You can watch every episode from first to last (the finale which aired in 1983 still reigns as the most watched television episode ever) and they all still look new and relevant. The environment of a makeshift tent, the green combat fatigues, the hospital. Everything immortal. Which is something I also thought would hold true for Colonel Potter as well.
It’s funny, I have several seasons of M*A*S*H on DVD and rarely watch them. But whenever I happen upon a M*A*S*H marathon on TV Land I am hooked. Maybe it’s just a final memory of youth but for me the show ranks right up there with only The Three Stooges: one that gives a better viewing experience when stumbled upon while channel surfing.
So Godspeed to you dear Colonel Potter. You have served both your country, and my childhood well.